Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Friday, December 17, 2010

Red Sox Bullpen Being Remade In Rapid Order

The Red Sox may have shored up their bullpen Thursday with the addition of former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.

Jenks had a career-high 4.44 ERA last season, but he had 27 saves and struck out 61 batters in 52.2 innings, a phenomenal strikeout ratio. Jenks' fastball has been clocked at over 100 mph. That's a serious power pitcher.

Both Jonathan Papelbon and Jenks will be 30 next season. According to Buster Olney, Jenks will be given a chance to compete for the position of closer when Papelbon is eligible for free agency after next season.

The pressure will be on Papelbon with both Jenks and Daniel Bard waiting behind him. The presence of two possible successors may bring out the best in the Sox longtime closer.

Over six seasons with the White Sox, Jenks was 14-18 with a 3.40 ERA and 334 strikeouts in 341.2 innings. He had 173 saves in those six seasons, ranking second in franchise history.

Jenks had back-to-back 40-save seasons for the White Sox in 2006 and 2007, but posted career lows in saves (27), innings (52 2/3) and ERA (4.44) last season.

The upside is that Jenks averaged 10.4 strikeouts per 9 innings in 2010, his highest ratio since his rookie season (11.4).

In rapid succession, the Sox have added old friend Lenny DiNardo, Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Andrew Miller, whom the club traded for last month and then abruptly non-tendered.

DiNardo was with the Red Sox from 2004-06, going 1-3 with a 5.53 ERA in 43 appearances as a reliever and spot starter. The lefty has a 5.36 ERA over six seasons. Given his ERA, it's no wonder the Sox only signed him to a minor league deal. He may never see Fenway again, unless he's sitting in the stands.

The 27-year-old Albers is a bit of a project. The righty was 5-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 62 games for the Orioles in 2010, striking out 49 and walking 34 in 75 2/3 innings. The combination of the poor ERA and the high walk-per-strikeout ratio make Albers a bit of a long shot to make the team out of spring training.

Over parts of the last five seasons in the majors, mostly as a reliever, Albers has a 5.11 ERA. And his career strikeout numbers (5.8 per nine innings) are fairly unimpressive as well.

Albers' strength is his career 1.05 groundball-to-flyball rate, which is roughly 33 percent better than league average. In 2010, that jumped to a 1.33 groundball-to-flyball ratio, the sixth-highest mark in the AL (min. 50 innings).

The Sox also re-signed Milton native Rich Hill, granting him another minor league contact. The 30-year-old veteran has a career 22-20 record and 4.82 ERA in 84 career appearances (70 starts), spanning parts of six major league seasons. The lefty has posted 358 strikeouts in 399.1 innings.

After trading Dustin Richardson for Miller in November, the Sox chose not to offer the 6'7" lefty a contract, making him a free agent. The 25-year-old was rushed to the majors by Florida, making his big league debut just three weeks after being drafted.

Though Miller needed time for more development in the minors, he was out of options. Had the Sox tendered him, it would have mandated an assignment to the big league team. Considering his 5.84 ERA in 79 appearances over parts of five seasons, that was not a given in Boston.

By non-tendering Miller, the Red Sox were able to give him a minor league contract and avoid arbitration, which might have meant a raise on the $1.8 million he made last season with the Marlins.

Miller will get an invitation to big league camp and the opportunity to compete for a spot in the Red Sox' bullpen.

The Sox pen is now composed of righties Papelbon, Bard, Jenks, Scott Atchison, and Tim Wakefield, plus lefties Miller and Felix Dubront. Additionally, righties Hill, Albers, Matt Fox, Michael Bowden and Robert Coello are also in the mix.

Aside from Jenks, the one thing all of the new additions have in common is that they do not have strong track records or histories of great success at the major league level. That's a problem that could come back to haunt the Red Sox next season. And even Jenks has declined in recent years.

The Red Sox bullpen still seems to be one piece away from completion. The club may yet seek a proven lefty specialist, like Brian Fuentes, before they can consider this work in progress to be completed. At this point, the reconstruction of the bullpen still appears to be a work in progress.

However, the addition of all the new faces, plus the absence of Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen, will certainly give the Red Sox pen a very different look next season.

That's a good start. It seems they're almost there.

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